WASHINGTON — Canada, the United States and Mexico are getting the band back together.
U.S. President Joe Biden will host Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House next week, the first gathering of the so-called Three Amigos since the dawn of the Donald Trump era five years ago.
The Nov. 18 meeting, formally known as the North American Leaders’ Summit, was an annual tradition for the three leaders that began in 2005 until a prolonged hiatus that coincided with Trump’s election as president in 2016.
It will also be Trudeau’s first in-person visit to the U.S. capital since Biden became president in January.
“Priorities include finishing the fight against COVID-19, getting the job done on vaccines, tackling the climate crisis, creating new middle-class jobs, building an economic recovery that works for everyone, and migration,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Canada in particular has a lot it wants to talk about.
High on Trudeau’s checklist will be airing Canadian grievances about a proposed tax credit for American-made electric vehicles, part of the Biden administration’s ambitious economic and social spending package known as the Build Back Better Act.
Critics say the credit, worth as much as US$12,500 to new-car buyers in the U.S., would give an unfair advantage to Big Three automakers and undermine the highly integrated auto manufacturing process that exists between the two countries.
That complaint dovetails with Canada’s broader concerns about Biden’s forceful Buy American rhetoric, which includes a more stringent vetting process for foreign contractors and suppliers looking to capitalize on a generational effort to overhaul U.S. infrastructure.
“The really important opportunity for Canada is to help explain, in the context of the current U.S. politics, why economic integration helps advance the U.S. agenda,” said Maryscott Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council.
“This is a recurring theme for Canada, which is don’t come and bang the table and say, ‘We’re best friends, closest partners, biggest and best allies.’ Come and say, ‘Why is it in your interest, U.S.A., to do the kinds of things that we want to do together.’”
Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the goal of the summit should be nothing short of a full reset of the Canada-U.S. relationship.
“The trilateral relationship, which became severely strained during the Trump administration, has still not recovered. All three countries have suffered as a result,” Beatty said in a statement.
“Canadians had high hopes that a change in government in Washington would help revive the special relationship that long existed between the United States in Canada. Unfortunately, we still see few signs of improvement.”
Pipelines, too, remain a point of contention: cancelling the Keystone XL expansion was part of Biden’s Day 1 agenda, and the White House has been dragged into a dispute between Michigan and Enbridge Inc. over a planned upgrade to the cross-border Line 5 pipeline.
The two countries are also bracing for a showdown on long-standing continental irritants like softwood lumber and dairy imports. The U.S. complaint about Canada’s rules for importing American-made milk products is the first significant trade dispute since the advent of the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement.
Canada is also anxious to play a vital strategic role in supplying critical minerals and rare-earth elements to make the batteries and electronic components so essential to the rapidly expanding North American electric vehicle market.
Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, described the meeting as an “important opportunity” for all three countries to reinforce their economic ties in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council’s wish list for the meeting includes advocating for Line 5 while co-operating on reducing greenhouse gas emissions; “challenging” protectionist U.S. measures “that disadvantage Canadian manufactured goods and content,” and promoting the idea of a united North American economic front.
Beatty recommended focusing on a Canadian plan to “develop and share” its critical mineral reserves, renew the bilateral defence industrial relationship, with a specific focus on Norad and cybersecurity, and develop a common approach to adapting to climate change.
News of the meeting also comes on the heels of Monday’s relaxation of COVID-19 travel restrictions, which had prevented fully vaccinated Canadian visitors from driving across the Canada-U.S. border for non-essential purposes.
The White House version of Wednesday’s announcement described the agenda for the meeting as reaffirming trilateral “strong ties and integration” while “charting a new path” on COVID-19, competitiveness, climate change and migration.
Some casual observers might assume migration is an issue specific to the Mexico-U.S. dynamic, but COVID-19 has made it a priority for everyone, Greenwood said — particularly when it comes to the idea of creating an integrated North American economic powerhouse.
“When we think about the movement of people and goods … it’s not just what’s happening at the southern border, it’s everything,” she said.
“It’s not just business travel, it’s not just leisure travel, it’s not just family reunification, it’s not just refugees, it’s not just migration across the southern border — it’s all of these things.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2021.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press